Sunday, June 7, 2009

Taiwan SCUBA and Snorkeling.... what a trip!

It would seem logical to assume that people who live on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean would be skilled swimmers; people who love the ocean and spend a good deal of time swimming in it. This, however, is not the case here in Taiwan.

We had heard stories from our friends of people walking along the beaches of southern Taiwan in life vests - to protect themselves in case a spontaneous super wave came up and swept them out to sea - but we just laughed at what we assumed was a gross exaggeration. However, now that we've been SCUBA diving and snorkeling on Green Island... I'm not sure that he was so far off the mark after all.

As I mentioned before, Green Island is almost completely surrounded by coral and most of the snorkeling is done right off shore, with people simply walking from the beach straight into the water.

On the second morning of our Green Island trip, Nick and I had a plans to go off-shore snorkeling, so we woke up early and headed down to the dive shop. As were preparing for the dive, putting on our wet suits with a group of Taiwanese tourists, the snorkeling guide started handing out life vests.

Now, Nick and I had both been snorkeling several times before in places like Hawaii and Australia and we had never worn (or seen anyone wear) a life vest while doing so. SO, with my newly acquired Chinese language skills, I told the guide "我們都可以游泳, 我們不要那些" or "we can swim, we don't want those !"

Feeling very satisfied with myself for successfully communicating a complete thought, we headed for the shore sans life vest in full-body wet suits complete with little booties, a snorkel, and goggles. The only thing we were missing was a pair of flippers.... But, just as I had never before seen anyone snorkel with a life vest, I had also never seen anyone snorkel without flippers before, so, I rationalized, they will surely give those to us when we get there.

A short scooter drive later, we arrived at the dive site: 6 divers and one guide. As we walked to the shore I noticed that the guide was only carrying one set of flippers, for himself, and 6 life-preservers all tied together by a rope...

mmmm peculiar, I thought, but I carried on with the group as we all walked into the water. We were in about waist high, when the instructor started explaining that we were each going to hold on to a life preserver and he would drag us out to sea where we would remain stationary, floating together - like buoys marking off a swimming area - with our faces in the water checking out the scene below while the guide lures fish to the group by feeding them with a loaf of soggy bread...

Yes! Seriously! This is how they go snorkeling here.... all I can say is: How Bizarre.

Of course Nick and I, being the independent Americans that we are, wanted nothing to do with this! So, even though it is impossible to swim efficiently with booties on and no flippers, we immediately left the group and went exploring on our own. We saw lots of great fish (including one large black fish with long protruding white teeth eating another fish for lunch! pretty cool!) and some beautiful coral and, I told myself, 'tomorrow I'm sure that things will be different when we go SCUBA diving.'

Boy was I wrong!

SCUBA diving was even more bizarre than snorkeling! Again there were NO flippers! So we all walked to the end of the reef (yes we walked on the reef) and then once we hit the drop-off we went down for the dive.
The guides did nothing to explain the whole process to us, they didn't even show us how to use our regulators or warn us of the bends (and this was on a "discovery" dive which is for non-certified and 1st time divers!)

I had been diving several times before and even I was completely discombobulated during the descent. I had thought that the instructor was just showing me how to inflate and deflate my vest and the next thing I knew I was 10 feet under water with this guy pulling me down to the bottom! Nick had never been diving before and had no idea what to expect! Needless to say it was a bit of a traumatic experience for both of us. - they took us down so fast that we both had trouble regulating the pressure in our ears for almost a week afterwards!

Once we got down there, we were just standing on the bottom of the ocean while they fed the fish soggy bread! (so much for the "eco-tourism" that they claim to be developing on the island!)

Any time we wanted to move more than a foot or two, they had lift us up by our tanks and carry us around like puppets. It was a really disconcerting feeling, being basically unable to move on my own 10 meters under the water. I kept thinking, 'what is the point of coming all the way down here to just sit in one place while you feed the fish bread!? I might as well be in an aquarium!' At least when we were snorkeling we could move around and explore, but that was virtually impossible during the SCUBA trip.

(Incidentally, I would not recommend anyone not PADI certified to go SCUBA diving with 好朋友 (Good Friend) diving company on Green Island)

So, there you have it, SCUBA and snorkeling - Taiwan style! There are definitely some beautiful things to see around Green Island, but make sure you ask for flippers before you leave the dive shop!!


  1. i've been "snorkling" on Green Island 2 times. the second time, the sifu recognized me, gave me a pair of flippers and a lifeguard float, basically promoting me. he didn't require me to wear a vest or hold onto the rope. when it was time to feed the fish, he gave me the food and asked me to hand it out.

    let me tell you that the current is a lot stronger than it seems. if someone wasn't used to it and let go of those life preserver rings, they might not be able to swim back to them.

  2. I agree, the current definitely is a strong one. Before we left the group, the guide did give us the OK and a handful of soggy bread to feed the fish ourselves.

    And, I have to concede that this method of snorkeling does make sense for guiding a bunch of people who never swim in the ocean and don't feel confident in their ability to branch out on their own, but this would never fly in the US, haha!

  3. I think that you have to put this experience of yours into perspective. First off although Taiwan is an island the majority of people here do not learn how to swim. Secondly there are an aweful lot of bad superstitions about the water. Thirdly the coastline of Taiwan is notorious for strong rips and longshore currents, many people drown here every year so this reinforces the superstitions. Fourthly there is very little regulations on snorkeling or dive shop operators. My advice is if you want to learn to dive in Taiwan go with one of the many experienced foreign instructors that live here. Check out

  4. This reminds me of an experience I had going "white water rafting" on whatever that river is called near Taroko Gorge. My cousin and I have expereince rafting in the States, so we were very much looking forward to our rafting trip in Taiwan. In ended up being like floating down one of those fake rivers in intertubes at a water park. We weren't allowd to get out of the boat and swim, and everyone spent most of their time splashing each other with these little cups that are provided. My cousin and I kept pretending to fall out just so we could swim a little and be refreshed, but the guids were not too happy about that. One time a girl in another boat did fall out, and she screamed bloody murder. I don't know what she was afraid of because she had a life vest on and the "rapids" are practically nonexistant. Oh well, it was still fun in a relxing sort of way! =)

  5. If you want a safe and eco friendly experience come diving with me sometime. Check out my website

  6. I have heard all the excuses living in Taiwan, superstitions not good swimmers etc etc etc blah blah blah. Well how about educating, and using PROPER equipment. I was on a boat to Turtle Island once everyone except my GF and I was throwing up, they did not go outside or even look out just put their heads between there legs and vomited on the floor. The lifejackets were so poor (and this is often the case in other water experiences) that they were actually a liability. The biggest problems here are ego of the "coaches" and the total lack of "real" understanding, I once rescued a lifeguard, he was so useless. It all starts with education but here in Taiwan they want to do things "their" way!! And as mentioned above why the hell would someone go rafting if they are going to scream bloody murder if they fall in, LIVE THE STEREOTYPE LOL.

  7. Great write-up and a spot-on analysis of Taiwanese psychology, especially how it has affected the development of the so-called "extreme" sports here. The same sorts of things take place during surfing lessons, "mountaineering" trips, etc.

  8. I went snorkeling on Green Island when I first came to Taiwan. We were laying in the water in a circle, all holding hands, looking at the corral, when suddenly little chunks of someone's lunch started floating around us. Taiwanese get sea-sick really easily! Gross, but at the same time, really funny.

  9. hi ... I really am very grateful for any information that you shared with readers, to me seemed a very interesting and I love to get much more information.

  10. As a Travel Agent I really appreciate your Candidness about the low level of training. My client would be very upset if I did this to him :(